Written by: Megan Lynch Chowning
I grew up in the 80s in Northern California surrounded by family, musicians, artists, and teachers, many of whom were members of the LGBTQ community. Everyone was welcome in our home and in our lives and I must admit I was a little naïve about how rare this attitude actually was in so many homes throughout the country. I fell in love with bluegrass music in the early 2000s while living in San Francisco and every jam I attended included people of different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations and gender identities and the only thing that seemed to matter to people was how fast you could play Big Mon or if you knew the proper tenor part on Can't You Hear Me Callin'.
In 2005, I moved to Tennessee and became a professional (whatever that is...) bluegrass musician and I quickly found out that things weren't the same all over. People from back home were constantly asking me if I was experiencing prejudice against women or LGBTQ people and while I did notice it almost immediately, I was embarrassed to confirm their assumptions. I'm still not sure what compelled me to feel responsible and want to cover for other people's bad behavior. Maybe I wasn't sure if I had the strength to stand up for my values and to speak my mind on equality so I reasoned that if I didn't acknowledge it was happening, I wouldn't have to do anything about it. I spent a lot of time defending the bluegrass community in the South and telling people that it wasn't nearly as bad as they thought it was but the truth is, it was worse. I quit the first band I had joined when I moved to Nashville because I couldn't stand hearing the homophobic comments and “jokes” (I use quotes because jokes are funny and none of these things were funny) in the van on the way to festivals. But I didn't tell anyone that was why. I heard from dear friends who got “outed” by their bandmates and then fired and thrown off the bus. I spent long nights with other friends listening to them cry and say things like, “Why did I have to be good at bluegrass AND gay? It's not fair.” In essence, I knew too many people who loved bluegrass and were huge contributors to the legacy of the music who couldn't be themselves and make a living because of the narrow-mindedness of people in power in the industry. These people are my friends and they are full of so much love and music and they deserve every opportunity to share everything they have to offer and be able to pay the bills while doing it.
Recently though, I've seen a crack in the wall. And now there's a light shining through that crack and people like Brandon Godman and Justin Hiltner and Melody Walker and Jon Weisberger and Bill Evans and Laurie Lewis and Ted Kuster and dozens of others are holding flashlights and shining them brightly while they're working on toppling that wall. I wish I had been braver back then. But that was then. I am focusing on being brave now and saying out loud that I'm here for every one of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and non-binary gendered friends. Bluegrass Pride is important to me because I know real musicians whose lives have been devastated by silence and prejudice and hostility and ignorance and I refuse to accept that reality any longer.
Sidenote: I'm still not sure what we're going to do about women in bluegrass. It's better but we have a long way to go. I got a call from a young, super badass female fiddler the other day and she was devastated to find out that she hadn't been considered for the recent opening in Ricky Skaggs' band. It broke my heart to tell her that she couldn't ever fiddle well enough to get on that list. I guess it gave her some consolation to know it wasn't because she was untalented, but I'm sure we all get the point. We keep climbing mountains...
With love and pride, Megan Lynch Chowning
Nashville Acoustic Camps